Utah Jazz: Team is free falling after losing fourth straight

The Utah Jazz completely flopped last week, dropping all four of their games against teams without their best players.

Things have been rough for the Utah Jazz lately. After winning 19 of 21 and marking their territory on the Western Conference’s second seed, Utah got eaten alive by their competition this week.

They lost to the Houston Rockets sans James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and allowed Eric Gordon to drop 50 points in the process. They lost to the San Antonio Spurs who were without LaMarcus Aldridge.

They lost to the Denver Nuggets on the same night that Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were named All-Stars. And to cap it all off, they fell victim to Damian Lillard‘s incredible tear of 50 point performances, losing in Portland.

All of this came at a crucial time when the Jazz needed to build up a record against teams above .500 and teams in their own Northwest division.

We already know they can dominate lesser teams, but that unstoppable offense went missing following the exciting win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Having said that, the Jazz got by just fine offensively. It was their defense – specifically perimeter defense – that allowed all of these opponents to score like juggernauts.

If the Jazz played the hard nosed defense we all know they can play, then Eric Gordon never would have dropped 50 points on them. DeMar DeRozan would have had to put in more work to get his 38 points.

The Denver Nuggets wouldn’t have made a huge surge in the third quarter on Thursday night, and the Portland Trail-Blazers wouldn’t have made such huge runs at the end of each quarter on Saturday night.

To be fair, the other teams threw some curve balls that the Jazz didn’t see coming.

The Houston Rockets pulled Gobert out of the paint with uber-small lineups, opening up space for Gordon to get his points. The Jazz forced the Spurs to take a lot of shots in the mid range, which is good for the modern NBA. The Spurs just made those shots at an uncanny rate.

And Damian Lillard? Nobody is stopping him at the moment.

The Jazz were away from home most of last week, and didn’t get enough practice sessions to correct bad habits. But if we’re gonna be fair, it needs to go both ways.

The Jazz had no business committing so many fouls against the Spurs and Rockets. DeRozan got his 38 points with a little help from the charity stripe – 19 free tries to be exact. In turn, they gave Gobert 18 attempts at the free throw line which he didn’t take advantage of.

Donovan Mitchell is too valuable for the Jazz to have an off night like he did against Denver. His perimeter defense has been suspect too.

After finally turning the corner and getting proper recognition among the national media, the Utah Jazz have taken the largest of dives in power rankings among the league.

Power Rankings by week (second half of regular season)

ESPN: 5th, 3rd, 8th

CBS Sports: 4th, 4th, 10th

NBA.com: 3rd, 3rd, 7th 

Bleacher Report: 3rd, 3rd, 8th

Sports Illustrated: 6th, 5th, 8th

Hoops Habit: 7th, 6th, 8th

Notable Quotes

via Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report:

In addition to a four-loss ranking session that came out of nowhere, Utah must now wrestle with Mike Conley‘s reinsertion into the starting lineup. He joined the first unit Saturday.

Did the Jazz make the veteran a pre-trade promise about his role, or do they still believe his play is key to reaching their postseason ceiling? There’s not much of a case to be made that Conley’s presence in the starting five (or on the floor at all) has made the Jazz better to this point. Utah’s net rating is 5.0 points per 100 possessions better with him off the floor.

via John Schumann of NBA.com

The Jazz have gone from a 19-2 stretch to a four-game losing streak, allowing the Rockets, Spurs, Nuggets and Blazers to score more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the four games…

As we’ve seen over the last couple of months, the ceiling is higher. But this team has yet to defend like Jazz teams of the past. Three of the teams that torched them last week are back for more, and the Rockets won’t be missing their two former MVPs this time.

Keys to a bounce back week

There will be a much needed gap from Saturday night’s game in Portland to Utah’s next game on Wednesday. The players must focus on playing together more on both sides of the ball, making cuts and helping their teammates on defense.

The coaching staff must find a way to combat small ball lineups like the ones Houston threw at the Jazz. Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, Utah will soon get a rematch with all four of the teams they faced last week.

They host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Trail-Blazers on Saturday, and fly back to Houston for round two of the Rockets. It will be a good opportunity to see how they play differently after getting spanked last week.

The Jazz cannot afford another winless week, which would put them in danger of having a nine game losing streak heading into the All-Star break.

Mike Conley looked really good in the game against Portland, and they will need more of that as they take on teams that are not at full strength.

Next: Conley back in starting lineup, where he belongs

Winning just one of these three games would be welcome, but I expect more from this team that was a juggernaut just a short time ago. A 2-1 week would be a true bounce back and statement to the rest of the league that the Jazz have no quit.

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